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STEM Phases of Water: Why Snowflakes are Different 

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STEM Phases of Water: Why Snowflakes are Different

There are so many wonderful memories associated with winter, but the most iconic symbol of this season would be the snowflake. There is an endless list of activities to do in the snow whether you are building a snowman together, making snow angels, having a snowball fight, going sledding, skiing, or snowboarding. Snow is a key element of magical memories for people all around the world. But what makes snow so unique? What we see with our naked eye might just be a white speck, but actually, snowflakes are beautifully intricate ice crystals. That

Most likely you have heard that no two snowflakes are exactly alike, which might not be completely accurate, but scientists say that the chances of two snowflakes being identical are 1 in a million trillion, meaning that it is a safe bet that you will never see two identical snowflakes. So why are these snowflakes all different?

What is a Snowflake?

To answer the question of why they are all different, we first need to understand what a snowflake is. A snowflake is made of three ingredients: ice crystals, water vapor, and dust. The snowflake is made of tiny ice crystals forming as water vapor freezes on tiny pieces of dust. Then water droplets freeze to the ice crystals, forming a larger crystal. The shape of a snowflake is influenced by both the temperature and humidity of the atmosphere where the snowflake is formed.

All crystals are created by molecules aligning themselves in a certain pattern, and ice crystals, this is a six-sided, perfectly symmetrical crystals, also known as six-fold symmetry, which is how we get the iconic snowflake image.

Differences in Snowflakes

While all snowflakes are different, there are a few common groupings such as Hexagonal Plates, Stellar Plates, Stellar Dendrites, and even some more unordinary shapes.

Hexagonal Plates

These are six-sided flat shapes that form a complete hexagon instead of what we typically think of as the classic snowflake shape. However, they still are symmetrical, and sometimes have the classic star pattern at the center of the hexagon.

Stellar Plates

These are one of the more common shapes of a snowflake, with six distinct “arms”. However, these “arms” are just singular columns and do not contain any branches off of these arms.

Stellar Dendrites

This is the shape that most people associate with the classic snowflake image. It is a snowflake with six distinct arms like the Stellar Plates, but it has many branches off of these arms, giving the snowflake the classical lacy appearance.

Fernlike Stellar Dendrites

Like the Stellar Dendrites, this shape has branches, but it has many more branches than the Stellar Dendrites, giving this snowflake an almost featherlike appearance, like a fern, hence the name.

Other Snowflake Shapes

Unlike what you may think, snowflakes do come in more uncommon shapes. There are the needle-shaped ones, that form in temperatures a little below freezing. There are also columns, bullets, and irregular shapes for snowflakes. Not all snowflakes are the classic shape that we think of. It all depends on the conditions of the atmosphere when the snowflake is first formed, and what it encounters when it falls to the ground.

All of these conditions make for all types of different snow types. For example, dendrites don’t pack together as well as plates, meaning that dendrite snow will be fluffier. You should know what type of snow you should be wishing for this winter.

  • Powdery snow is great for sledding, and skiing because it is soft, and won’t hurt as much when you fall into it.
  • Granular snow is best for when you want to make a snowman or have a snowball fight with your friends and family. However, this is also the kind that you should watch out for on the roads.
  • The crust is when the top layer melts and then is refrozen, creating a solid sheet of ice that can add a fun crunch to your walk.

Now when you are wishing for that winter wonderland, you can understand the beauty around you just a little bit more. After all, you are probably the only person to see that snowflake. Visit The Learning Experience’s Bubbles and Friends YouTube channel here to learn more!

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